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Jeff Kolpack, Published March 29 2012

Menke's emergence gives NDSU softball a pair of aces

Fargo - It was the end of February and the North Dakota State softball team was playing No. 2-ranked Alabama on the road. Head coach Darren Mueller looked into the stands, saw a couple of thousand people, and joked to his two pitchers: There are more people here than in each of your two hometowns.

That would be Whitney Johnson, from Lake Crystal, Minn., and Krista Menke, from Friend, Neb.

It’s a well-known fact NDSU has gone into California and brought talent to the Upper Midwest. They also get kids from places with more grain bins than stoplights.

And in Friend, the Bison found a friend. When Johnson hurt her arm earlier this month, NDSU turned to the true freshman Menke. who came from a graduating class of 28 kids. And all she did was earn the Summit League Pitcher of the Week honor three straight weeks.

“It was more about just knowing you can do it and believing in yourself,” Menke said.

Her high school background was a journey in itself. Friend never had a softball team until the parent of one of Menke’s classmates decided there were enough talented players to put together a team in her freshman year.

With just 10 girls on the team, not everybody was on board with the idea, Menke said. She said the team wasn’t very good the first year, either.

That futility didn’t last. Friend won a Nebraska Class C title two years later.

“We were Class C because there was no Class D in softball,” Menke said. “But once things started moving, it turned out to be a good thing.”

Of course, Class C and Division I softball are worlds apart. Instead of facing Menke’s high school rival Fillmore Central, the Bison are hosting league title threat Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne today.

NDSU entered the picture when assistant coaches Jaime Trachsel and Brittany Weil saw Menke pitch in the state tournament.

There was something about the kid that the two coaches liked, Mueller said. They were right. Menke is 13-6 with a 2.00 ERA and with Johnson getting healthy, it presents the Bison with a nice problem to have: Who is the No. 1 pitcher?

“I don’t know,” Mueller said. “This is the first time in a long time we have two pitchers capable of being No. 1.”

Lake Crystal has a population of 2,593, which included one golden right arm. Friend has a population of 1,157 and at one time had a golden right arm. Combined, those towns’ populations would represent 26 percent of the NDSU student body.

“Being from a small town in general makes it a bit harder to get noticed,” Menke said, “but it’s not a detriment, because you learn to deal with everybody.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia

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